Return to Stories

Bolivian Believers

Bolivia is one of several countries in South America which is home to communities of Mennonites, a group of Christian Anabaptists who migrated to the Americas from Eastern Europe in a number of waves from the late 17th century until the 1950s. Bolivia's Mennonites arrived in the country in the mid 1950s and have formed some 57 colonies.

Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky visited the community of Santa Rita near the city of Santa Cruz in central Bolivia. Below they recount their curious encounter with a tiny, isolated piece of Europe in the steamy interior of South America.

It was night. I had cut my hair, shaved my beard, and was dressed in blue overalls, a long sleeve blue shirt, and a blue baseball cap. I was one of them. 'Come here', Cornelius said. He was sitting with his wife in the corner of their dining room staring at me seriously with spooky eyes. 'It has been really great to have you here. It is a shame you have to leave so soon. What do you think about coming to live here, in our community, forever?'. 'Forever??'

I thought for a second. What would it be like to become a Mennonite? No cars. No television. No music! No way. 'It has been great staying with you', I politely replied, 'but I can't, I just can't.'

I was dressed like a Bolivian Mennonite because I was preparing to do the unthinkable. I was getting ready to enter the Sunday church service in the Mennonite community of Santa Rita, Bolivia. The next morning at 6.30, Abram cruised by the house in his carriage. 'Just don't take any pictures' he warned as the horse trotted through the beautifully lit countryside on the way to the chapel.

We were late. We sat on little wooden benches, the men on one side and the women on the other. No one dared say a word. All of a sudden the entire room was filled with the thick sound of voices.

They sang like it was judgment day and their souls depended on it. The golden light poured through the cracks of the walls threatening to break them down. Their voices penetrated my body, from my forehead to the depths of my intestines. Wow! Maybe there is a God, I thought.

For the next two and a half hours I listened to a priest read from the Bible in German. My back ached. Sleep threatened. The fear of being found out had worn off. Then suddenly everybody jumped up, rushed out to their carriages, and rode off without saying a single word to each other. Strange.

About a week earlier, Cornelius had courageously agreed to let us stay in his house. We observed as the girls went out to milk the cows in the morning and the men toiled in the cheese factory. At night, the family often gathered around the dining room table as we showed them photos on our laptop. The children's eyes widened in disbelief. Although these youngsters could cook a dinner for ten and make their own clothes from scratch, they hadn't a clue about the outside world. Their school curriculum consisted of the Bible and nothing else.

Why are these people so painfully separated from the outside world? 'The chip', Cornelius explained. 'It is already happening in more advanced countries like Germany and the United States.' Cornelius went on to tell me how the Bible clearly states that computer chips will slowly but surely be implanted into the right hand or forehead of every human being on the planet. Those who resist will be murdered. 'The chip is the 666', he insisted.

The Mennonites, who have moved from Europe, to Russia, to Canada, to Mexico, and now to Bolivia, have always been outcasts. They have always searched for a simpler way of life in which they can practice their religion in peace. They are scared of technology and its ability to distract them from the path of Christ. Now the ultimate enemy has arrived. The apocalypse is near and the devil has come riding in on the back of the digital revolution. The Internet is the 666.

When we got back to Santa Cruz we indulged in wifi and frappuccinos. Sometimes it's nice to be evil.
powered by